Ask the master gardeners
Q: What is the difference between soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems?
A: Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are more efficient than conventional hose or sprinkler watering and help to conserve water.
A soaker hose resembles a 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch garden hose. It is often made from recycled tires and comes in 25- to 100-foot lengths. Soaker hoses are very porous and allow water to seep out 6 to 12 inches on either side of the hose along its entire length. They deliver water more effectively on flat surfaces and if their total length does not exceed 100 feet.
Soaker hoses water indiscriminately and should be used for mass plantings (flower beds or row plantings). They are inexpensive and easy to install: roll them out over the area you wish to irrigate and cover them with mulch.
Drip irrigation systems are usually composed of 1/2-inch polypropylene feeder lines with emitters at the ends. The emitters can allow 1/2, 1 or 2 gallons of water per hour to drip onto the plants. Put an emitter by any plant you want watered so that the water goes directly to the plants roots, and vary the flow based on the size of the plant.
Drip irrigation can also be used to water pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. While drip irrigation is more precise and versatile than a soaker hose, it is more expensive and requires a bit more work to install.
At the end of the growing season, disconnect the soaker hose or drip irrigation system from the faucet and leave the lines where they are, as both systems drain themselves.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems make gardens easier to water, as you no longer need to drag out a hose. They are easy to set up, use low pressure and may be hooked up to timers for automated watering.
You can sit back, and go with the flow.
Josef Brandler, Spring Valley, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland